Four Steps to Food Safety for Holiday Meals
Richland Public Health wants everyone to remain healthy for the holidays. Foodborne illness, often called food poisoning, is a common, costly—yet preventable—public health problem. Each year, about 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick from foodborne diseases.
Here’s a quick reminder about the importance of food safety, especially with Holiday Meals in the coming months. The Four Steps To Food Safety can help prevent foodborne illness in the home.
Wash hands and surfaces often
Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards.
Unless you wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family.
Follow these top tips to keep your family safe:
Wash hands the right way—for 20 seconds with plain soap and running water.
Washing your hands the right way can stop the spread of illness-causing bacteria.
Here’s how to do it:
- Wet your hands with warm or cold running water and apply soap. According to FDA, you should use plain soap and water.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Bacteria can hide out here too!
- Continue rubbing hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
And when to do it:
- Before eating food.
- Before, during, and after preparing food.
- Before and after treating a cut or wound.
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick.
- After handling uncooked eggs, or raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- After touching an animal or animal waste.
- After touching garbage.
- After using the toilet.
Wash surfaces and utensils after each use:
Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops. To prevent this:
- Use paper towels or clean clothes to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. Wash cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
- As an extra precaution, you can use a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils.
Wash fruits and veggies—but not meat, poultry, or eggs!
Did you know that—even if you plan to peel fruits and veggies—it’s important to wash them first because bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them?
Here’s how to wash all your produce effectively…
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas.
- Rinse produce under running water. Don’t use soap, detergent, bleach, or commercial produce washes.
- Scrub firm produce—like melons or cucumbers—with a clean produce brush.
- Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth towel… and you’re done.
- The good news? Bagged produce marked “pre-washed” is safe to use without further washing.
Why not wash meat, poultry, and eggs?
Washing raw meat and poultry can actually help bacteria spread, because their juices may splash onto (and contaminate!) your sink and countertops.
All commercial eggs are washed before sale. Any extra handling of the eggs, such as washing, may actually increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell becomes cracked.
Even after you’ve cleaned your hands and surfaces thoroughly, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate.
But which foods need to be kept separate, and how?
Follow these top tips to keep your family safe
Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
Placing ready-to-eat food on a surface that held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs can spread bacteria and make you sick. But stopping cross-contamination is simple.
Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods at the grocery.
Make sure you aren’t contaminating foods in your grocery bag by:
- Separating raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart.
- At the checkout, place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in plastic bags to keep their juices from dripping on other foods.
Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.
Bacteria can spread inside your fridge if the juices of raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs drip onto ready-to-eat foods. But stopping this contamination is simple…
- Place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping or leaking onto other foods. If you’re not planning to use these foods within a few days, freeze them instead.
- Keep eggs in their original carton and store them in the main compartment of the refrigerator—not in the door.
Cook to the right temperature
Did you know that the bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40˚ and 140˚ Fahrenheit?
And while many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without following a few important but simple steps.
Follow these top tips to keep your family safe
Use a food thermometer.
Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won’t tell you whether your food is done. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure.
- If you don’t already have one, consider buying a food thermometer.
- When you think your food is done, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle.
- Wait the amount of time recommended for your type of thermometer.
- Compare your thermometer reading to our Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure it’s reached a safe temperature.
- Some foods need 3 minutes of rest time after cooking to make sure that harmful germs are killed.
- Clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water after each use.
Keep food hot after cooking (at 140 ˚F or above).
The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking because the drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. But you can keep your food above the safe temperature of 140˚F by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.
Microwave food thoroughly (to 165 ˚F).
To make sure harmful bacteria have been killed in your foods, it’s important to microwave them to 165˚ or higher. Here’s how:
When you microwave, stir your food in the middle of heating.
- If the food label says, “Let stand for x minutes after cooking,” don’t skimp on the standing time. Letting your microwaved food sit for a few minutes actually helps your food cook more completely by allowing colder areas of food time to absorb heat from hotter areas of food. That extra minute or two could mean the difference between a delicious meal and food poisoning.
- After waiting a few minutes, check the food with a food thermometer to make sure it is 165˚F or above.
Did you know that illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them? (And if the temperature is 90 ˚F or higher during the summer, cut that time down to one hour!)
But by refrigerating foods promptly and properly, you can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home.
Harmful bacteria grow most rapidly in the Danger Zone—the unsafe temperatures between 42° and 134° F — so it’s important to keep food out of this temperature range. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food, and leftovers as soon as possible.
Follow these top tips to keep your family safe
Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.
Cold temperatures slow the growth of illness causing bacteria. So it’s important to chill food promptly and properly. Here’s how:
- Pack your refrigerator with care. To properly cool food (and slow bacteria growth), cold air must be allowed to circulate in your fridge. For this reason, it’s important not to over-stuff your fridge.
- Your fridge should be between 41 ˚F and 32 ˚F. Appliance thermometers help you know if the fridge is cold enough.
- Get perishable foods into the fridge or freezer within two hours. In the summer months, cut this time down to one hour.
- Remember to store leftovers within two hours as well. By dividing leftovers into several clean, shallow containers, you’ll allow them to chill faster
You can freeze almost any food. That doesn’t mean that the food will be good to eat – or safe.
- Freezing does not destroy harmful bacteria, but it does keep food safe until you can cook it.
- Your freezer should be 0 ˚F or below. Appliance thermometers help you know if the freezer is cold enough.
Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter.
Many people are surprised at this tip. But since bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature, thawing or marinating foods on the counter is one of the riskiest things you can do when preparing food for your family.
To thaw food safely, choose one of these options:
- Thaw in the refrigerator. This is the safest way to thaw meat, poultry, and seafood. Simply take the food out of the freezer and place it on a plate or pan that can catch any juices that may leak. Normally, it should be ready to use the next day.
- Thaw in cold water. For faster thawing, you can put the frozen package in a watertight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Be sure to change the water every 30 minutes. Note: If you thaw this way, be sure to cook the food immediately.
- Thaw in the microwave. Faster thawing can also be accomplished in the microwave. Simply follow instructions in your owner’s manual for thawing. As with thawing in cold water, food thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
- Cook without thawing. If you don’t have enough time to thaw food, just remember, it is safe to cook foods from a frozen state—but your cooking time will be approximately 50% longer than fully thawed meat or poultry.
To marinate food safely, always marinate it in the refrigerator.
Know when to throw food out.
You can’t tell just by looking or smelling whether harmful bacteria has started growing in your leftovers or refrigerated foods.
Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow by checking our Safe Storage Times chart.
See Foodsafety.gov for more information and helpful videos.
For information on Cooking Your Turkey, see this link:
Bonus: How to carve your turkey:
(Note: advertising on the above page is the content of the page owner and does not constitute endorsement by Richland Public Health).
SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS: It is important to follow healthy guidelines over the holidays, particularly when groups are gathering for meals. (1) Wash your hands frequently. (2) Cover your cough. (3) Stay at home if you are ill. (4) Get a flu shot if you haven’t already. Flu vaccines are available at Richland Public Health: walk-ins are welcome or call 419-774-4700 to schedule an appointment to shorten your wait time.
The temptation to visit family for the holidays should not overcome the need to keep everyone from getting ill. Have someone bring you leftovers!